Thursday, January 31, 2013

The "Job Jar" Thus Far

Hello! As mentioned in my very first post of 2013, I set up a "job jar" (actually a handcrafted pot a friend had made for me several years ago) with the intention of getting things done around the house in a more timely fashion - and also with making time for a variety of creative pursuits as well.

I have dutifully drawn a tag every day and have been keeping track of each task drawn and how I completed it. So here's the report on the first month has gone:

"Household Helps": organized recipe clippings, cleaned a particularly nasty area of the kitchen, decluttered a closet, cleaned the refrigerator, decluttered some books, repaired a chair (though alas, the glue job didn't hold, so it looks like I have to do it over), caught up on filing, and more.

"Help Others": made dolls for a charity project and made multiple trips to the thrift store to donate items. 

"Physical/Mental/Spiritual": went to the library and checked out books, wrote in a nature journal (after not having used it in several years, I was inspired to make several entries this month after drawing the tag once), did some birdwatching, used a paraffin wax spa kit (originally bought for my mom as a gift; she never used it and so I reclaimed it after she died), listened to relaxation CD's, and more. 

"Creativity": picked out flowers to buy, sewed Thanksgiving crafts (I pulled this tag twice - and it just so happened that there were two Thanksgiving crafts I had meant to work on this past November but hadn't gotten around to doing so), wrote a poem, started a short story, used a craft kit (thrift store find I'd forgotten about and had a great time using!) and more. 

There was one repeat I didn't do: after one trip to the library, I didn't feel the need to go one week later, so I just drew another tag. But I took advantage of other repeats to catch up on the filing, donate to thrift stores and complete the aforementioned Thanksgiving craft projects.

The only downside to such a system is that I have been delaying some tasks because I figured I'd draw the tags for doing them eventually. But in spite of not drawing the tag for "dust downstairs", it still needs dusting!

And now it has come time to take care of today's task - "clean bathroom".

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Get Carded - Another Wacky Birthday Card!

Hello! When I first began making greeting cards several years ago, my husband's birthday cards were traditional in appearance. Rubber-stamped images of birthday cakes or birthday gifts were the main design elements on such cards. 

Then a few years ago his birthday cards began to get wackier. Since he's a city boy, I have given these recent cards a "country" flavor. The card I made for his birthday earlier this week was no exception:

We'd been talking about the horses on Mackinac Island recently, so that's why I decided to use a horse image as the main motif. 

Supplies used:

White cardstock

Two layers of black art paper scraps

Image of horse, photocopied from a facsimile copy of Illustrated Historical Atlas Of Ottawa and Kent Counties, Michigan

Smaller horse image photocopied from a book about the history of writing

Vintage string glued behind smaller horse image (I thought it mimicked the tail of a horse; just a nice extra touch)

Greeting rubber-stamped in black StazOn ink

"54" cut from a vintage bingo game board 

My husband opened the card's envelope with a look of expectation on his face, not knowing what sort of wackiness I had come up with now. He laughed when he saw his card, so I know he enjoyed it. 

That facsimile book that I mentioned above was a cool thrift store find and worthy of its own post - so I'd better stop horsing around and write about it sometime soon!


Friday, January 25, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake!

Hello! Today is my husband's birthday, so in a short while I'll start making his birthday cake. From a photo of last year's birthday cake, you can see how it'll look:

The recipe comes from the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. Though a bit fussy, it's not hard to make, so I'm always amused when I recall the time in 1993 when I encountered a very similar cake under very different circumstances. 

My husband and I moved out to suburban Philadelphia in 1991 when he took a teaching job at Villanova University. We initially lived in an apartment because our house in Wisconsin hadn't sold yet. When it finally did so in the summer of 1992, we were free to house hunt. We bought a house late in 1992 and moved into it in January 1993. 

Of course, we moved onto a middle class street, but from having already lived in the area for over a year (our apartment was only about a mile away from the house we bought), we were well aware that we were surrounded by a sea of great wealth - money both old and new abounded. (it was the norm to see ladies in fur coats at church once the temperature hit below 40, and luxury car dealers were down the block from our apartment complex). 

But eager to meet new people, I accepted the invitation to attend a meeting of the local Newcomers Club for those like myself who had recently bought houses in the area. 

I admit, I felt a few qualms when I drove up to the hostess' house - it was undoubtedly worth around five times more than what we had just paid for ours. My Ford Escort wagon was one of the few domestic makes parked among the row of BMW and Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

The hostess was gracious and welcoming, and of course the interior of her house was beautifully decorated. But what I mostly remember about the evening was the dessert buffet artfully arranged on her dining room table. The hostess gestured to a cake that looked identical to my husband's birthday cake (minus the candles, of course). She mentioned the name of a fancy local pastry shop from where it had come and gushed, "And do you know, they deliver!" I wanted to bust out laughing at the thought of her having spent a good sum of money on something I make as a matter of course every year. 

That was probably the highlight of the evening. The other invited guests were very nice, but I was disappointed that many of them weren't even really newcomers per se. Like me, they had recently bought houses in the township, but unlike me, they had grown up in the area. Some had previously lived in a neighboring township, in communities just a few miles away from where the gathering was being held! I don't know about you, but I would have felt silly going to a "Newcomers Club" if I had been born and raised in the area.

Nevertheless, most of the attendees joined the club on the spot. I did not. It wasn't exactly that I felt intimidated and unwelcome - I was working in an upscale store at the time, so I had become used to being around wealthy people. And there were some nice activities within the club, like an antiquing group. But I reflected that the other members of that group would be likely to favor the high-end antique stores that were out of my price range. 

I had no regrets about not joining the club, and eventually found friends elsewhere. But I still have the memory of that fancy cake at the Newcomers Club meeting - and now I'm off to the kitchen to make one myself!

(note: the cake is called Mocha Cream Roll - it is a chocolate sponge cake filled with whipped cream that has been flavored with powdered sugar, cocoa and Kahlua. It is iced with a chocolate ganache and then further topped with a powdered sugar glaze.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bundle Up! Keep Warm With Help From The Thrift Store

Brrr! It's cold out there! Just came in from shoveling snow and I'm guessing that with the windchill it must be close to zero. But with the wearing of some thrift store finds, I wasn't cold at all. 

Let me backtrack a bit...before we moved here, we lived in areas that had much milder winters. Thus, I had a shortage of cold-weather clothing. The local thrift stores have come to the rescue, and so slowly but steadily I have built up a suitable winter wardrobe for the chilliest of days. 

Nothing like paying thrift store prices instead of the ones seen in catalogs! Case in point is what I have on today, seen HERE.

This jacket is currently selling for 69 dollars, but the price I paid at Goodwill was around 90% less! And the jacket is in fine shape. Although it's meant to be worn as outerwear, I am wearing it today as a topper over a T-shirt and this garment is keeping me toasty warm. 

For my bottoms, I'm wearing what I call my "snow shoveling pants" - thick fleece pants from Lands End. I paid $2.99 for them. And when I came into the house after snow shoveling, I slipped back into the Lands End shoes I just bought last week - they are a suede with a warm fur-like lining. I rarely see shoes I feel worth buying at the thrift stores - I'm hard on shoes and so it makes no sense to buy ones that already have had a lot of use. These shoes, however, had scant wear - and were only a dollar. 

So as you can see, I spent very little for maximum warmth! This cold snap is supposed to continue for a few more days, but not to worry - I have other warm pants, sweaters, pajamas and the like to help me stay warm - all purchased at prices lower than what our thermometer currently reads. (10 degrees, in case you were wondering!)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Get Carded - Thinking Of You

Hello! After Christmas a friend who lives in suburban Seattle mentioned a horrific accident that befelled the family of a former student of hers: father, mother, two daughters (one of whom is the former student), son-in-law (husband of her former student) and son were all together in the parents' car on an outing in Washington state just a few days before Christmas. Suddenly a tree fell on their car, crushing it. The parents were instantly killed. My friend's former student and her husband both suffered head injuries, while the other daughter may not walk again due to her injuries. The son, the youngest in the family, escaped with only minor injuries, which sounds like a blessing - but he then would have been the one to have to plan for his parents' burial, and now has to cope with seeing his sisters and brother-in-law struggle to regain whatever faculties they can. The term "survivor's guilt" may very well fit him. 

Shortly before Christmas, I'd been moping about the 2nd anniversary of my mom's death approaching - she had died on Christmas Eve in 2010. Upon hearing of what had happened to the family of my friend's former student, I realized that they, too, would never look at Christmas the same way again - but they had gone through something even worse.

Although I didn't know the family, I told my friend I'd send a card to the brother if she could get an address for him. She recently complied, so I will send out this card:

It is admittedly simple in design and message, but I feel a simple card is best when I don't know the recipient. The family may think it odd to get a card from a stranger, though of course I will explain how I learned of them. I don't know if anything I could say would ease the pain and difficulties that face the family, but I figure that it doesn't hurt to try.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Say It With Flowers!

Hello! From the sounds of things, our abnormally mild January weather is about to come to an end. "Coldest weather in two years" and "a foot of snow by Tuesday is possible" are some of the forecasts I've been hearing. 

Therefore, I was delighted when yesterday's "job jar" tag read "have flowers in the house". And so I headed to a nearby florist, Pat's European Fresh Flower Market. One thing I like about Pat's is the large selection of flowers that can be bought by the stem - it's fun to pick and choose as many or as few flowers as one wants. 

I asked the friendly gentleman behind the counter which flowers would hold up the longest and he suggested the mum varieties. Thus, for a little over five bucks, I got this arrangement of three flowers:

The white and yellow flowers are quite large - they measure almost 6" across. And I liked the lime-green color of the other variety. 

While paying for the flowers I admired the artistry of the handmade gift cards displayed near the counter. The man said they were made by a former employee and are popular with customers. I can see why - they are very charming! 

Fresh flowers may seem like a luxury, but I have the feeling that in a day or two, when it's frigid outside and we've gotten snow, I will be glad I'd gotten them for us to enjoy for a few days. (and remember, at Pat's I could have gotten just one flower, which would have made my purchase even cheaper).

So, in this case, "say it with flowers" says spring at a time when we need a dose of it! 

Pat's European Fresh Flower Market
505 W. 17th St. 
Holland, MI
(616) 796-3221

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Things You Can Always Find At A Thrift Store #2: Fun Fabrics

Hello! For me, a must-see section of any thrift store is the fabric area. As an occasional seamstress, frequent crafter and lover of vintage, I'm always thrilled when someone else's fabric stash can become mine, at thrift store prices!

I will show off a few selections from my fabric collection. My basement studio is very cold this time of year, so I grabbed just a fraction of what my thrift store jaunts have yielded.

Although the thrift stores often sell small pieces of fabrics, one can find pieces big enough for sewing larger projects:

I made a tote bag out of the blue and white floral print on top, and there's still a good-sized piece left. I made a skirt out of the red, white and blue striped material and haven't decided if I'll make a skirt or shorts out of the print on the bottom. 

As you can see, I paid the equivalent of $1.00/yd for this blue and white print (second from the top in the previous photo). This is a heavy material, suitable for another tote bag, among other possibilities. 

Not shown, because I used most of it already, is a navy blue fabric with white polka dots. I paid $1.00 for it - and there was enough to make shorts for both our daughter and myself!

For crafting, I favor small-scale prints for projects like ornaments and dolls:

Some of the fabrics above are older; may date from the 1970's. Anyone out there know when Meijer stopped selling fabrics? The piece in the foreground is from there.

I'll pick up larger prints if I like the designs, especially if the fabrics appears to be older:

The fabric on the left has an interesting large weave and I like the old-fashioned print. The Christmas design on the other piece also looks older, but I don't know if it actually is. 

Besides pieces of fabrics large enough to be folded and displayed on shelves, thrift stores often sell bags of miscellaneous smaller pieces of fabrics. I'll look through these and buy them if a. there's enough fabric that I like and b. the pieces are large enough for me to use. I've seen bags with fabric pieces so small or narrow that I'd be hard-pressed to find a use for them. 

An example of some smaller pieces:

This is a mix of newer and older fabrics. The red and white print in the foreground came from a grab bag of assorted red fabric pieces from a specialized thrift store in Ithaca, NY called Sew Green - it sells fabrics and a few other categories of supplies related to sewing and needle arts. The store isn't very big, but I enjoyed purchasing a couple of grab bags and a sewing pattern. (if you wish to learn more about Sew Green, go HERE.)

These smaller pieces of fabrics are great for many crafting projects. My current project, Comfort Dolls (mentioned a few posts back), is a perfect example since the dolls can be no bigger than 6" high. And since I'm using three different fabrics per doll, I don't need much of each piece.

One of my all-time favorite thrift store fabric finds was first mentioned HERE.  Here's what some of the fabrics look like:

Besides the sheer quantity of fabric pieces - hundreds - a good number of them are older fabrics and it was fun to see the variety of prints. I couldn't resist the likes of this, for example:

Nor these:

Thus far I've used some of the fabrics to edge a pair of white pillowcases and have made yo-yo's and a couple of other projects. 

As I said at the beginning of this post, this is only a fraction of what I have collected from thrift stores. I should also add that what I've shown reflects my tastes in fabrics and what projects I have in mind. There are plenty of newer fabrics to be had, as well as occasional bolts of heavier decorator fabrics.

As with any other category of thrift store wares, you'll never know what you'll find - but if you like to sew, do crafts, or just collect a variety of colorful older fabrics, thrift stores are worth a visit!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thrifty Acres - Thrift Stores To The Rescue Again

Hello! Earlier in the week, our daughter informed me that the theme days for her high school's upcoming Spirit Week had been announced, and three decades were included: 50's, 70's hippie and 80's. So it was off to the thrift store yesterday to see what we could find. 

We headed to the Salvation Army thrift store, because there's a special tag color sale on Saturdays: the tag color of the week is further discounted to 69c/item on that day. We already knew we were going to alter a sweatshirt for the 80's look (a la the signature style of Jennifer Beal's Flashdance character), so of course I wanted to spend as little money as possible for that garment. 

And yes, we did find a 69c sweatshirt. Also found a 69c pair of jeans for the hippie look. The jeans aren't of a hippie-ish style, but our daughter said she'd wear them again. I suggested that she find a peace sign from Google images to print out, which I in turn will cut out of felt to sew onto the jeans. She can remove it after that Spirit Week day is over. She also bought a cute top in a vaguely 70's print to wear, and will wear a pair of socks that I'd tie-dyed a few years back. The top was not part of the 69c sale, but our daughter said she'll wear it again, so the $2.99 price was fine with me.

The kids at her school had talked about poodle skirts and leather jackets for the 50's look, but neither turned up at the Salvation Army thrift store, so we headed over to the nearby Goodwill store. I spotted a black fake leather jacket, but it was $7.99, so forget that. 

Nevertheless, in general a thrift store remains a good place to head if your kid comes home from school in need of some sort of costume. 


Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Atypical January Day - No Snow Here!

No two winters are ever alike, of course, but thus far the beginning of Winter 2012-2013 is a lot like the beginning of last winter: milder weather than usual and very little snow to speak of. We've had a trace of snow this month, and the grand total for the season stands at 2.1" Yesterday and today it was in the 40's - and tomorrow and Saturday the paper shows a high of 53 for both days. That's 20 degrees above the normal high!

It turns colder on Sunday, and I'm sure we'll eventually get snowfalls worth shoveling. So I took advantage of the mild temps today to walk on the boardwalk along Lake Macatawa (for readers who live elsewhere, that lake is an inlet of Lake Michigan). 

I wasn't the only one out and about enjoying the nice weather:

Mallards and a white duck cruising around, always on the lookout for treats. You can see the lake in the background. 

Houses across the lake. With the lack of snow and the warmer-than-normal temps, it looked and felt more like March 10th than January 10th! 

Back to my side of the lake, where the Heinz plant resides (note the pickle-shaped sign on the side of the building). When the wind is blowing right, we can smell garlic and dill from the pickle processing. Always smells good! 

I typically walk on the boardwalk from one end to the other, then double back on it to return home. So on my return trip I encountered some of the same ducks:

They had come up quite close to me, clearly hoping to be fed, but I had nothing for them. So they gave up and took their leave of me - disappointed, no doubt, but I'd like to think that they were enjoying the nice weather as much as I was! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Made It - Comfort Doll

This past fall, I read of the Comfort Doll Project but knew that Christmas crafting would keep me too busy to work on this until after the holidays were over. 

And since that is now the case, there's no time like the present for me to get started on this endeavor. The project specs indicate that each doll is to be no taller than 6". That eliminated several doll patterns right there, but on the other hand, a doll that small should be simple to make, right? 

Not quite, at least not for an inexperienced dollmaker like me. There were a couple of fails - either the doll body came out too misshapen, or the doll dress took too long to make (due to hand-hemming). I knew I had to use a simple pattern or else I'd run out of steam really fast. 

So I turned to a 1970's era Christmas craft magazine I'd picked up at a thrift store last year. I'd already used one of its patchwork Christmas ornament patterns to make bird-shaped ornaments for nieces and nephews. So I scaled up one of the other patchwork shapes, a girl, to make a doll of about 4 3/4" in height:

Super simple to do, but I think it still turned out cute. Sure, there's a bit of sewing of the patchwork, but since the pattern pieces aren't big, this is a good way to use up fabric scraps. 

I added a bit of trim, sewed on beads for eyes and embroidered a mouth. A vintage fabric yo-yo with a pom-pom glued on top made for a cute hat. I forgot to do so, but I think I'll add a fabric or glued heart to the front. I think that will be a nice touch!

If you'd like to participate in the Comfort Doll project, check out the website HERE.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ice Sculpting Competition

Hello! For the past five years, our town has hosted a collegiate ice sculpting competitionTeams from colleges both in-state and out of state take part in this fun-to-watch event. 

The competition kicked off Friday evening with the creation of compulsory buffet-style sculptures, and yesterday there was a four-hour block of time for the freestyle portion of the contest. 

Downtown was jammed with spectators yesterday, but I managed to get some decent shots. The first several are of sculptures from the compulsory competition:

Very sweet - would have been nice for next month.

Let's eat at one of the popular downtown restaurants.

Elegant swan.

A calla lily, perhaps? Look at that detailed veining of the leaves.

The remaining shots are of the college students hard at work on their ice sculptures during the freestyle competition. As you'll see, the sound of power tools filled the air as these contestants labored over their works of art.


I had intended to return downtown today to take some photos of the finished sculptures, but it rained last night, which I assumed caused some deterioration of these sculptures. My husband walked through downtown this afternoon and confirmed this. It seems a shame that this happened after such intense work by the students, but it was fun to see the works in progress anyway!

The summary of the competition and the winners can be found HERE.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thrifty Acres - Vintage Betty Crocker

Hello! Sometime in 2010 I found this at the local Goodwill store:

I think I paid a dollar for it. This book had been published in 1962, although from what I read on eBay, a facsimile edition was released much more recently. There are many copies of the 1962 edition currently on eBayso this is not a particularly rare or valuable book. 

Nevertheless, it was great fun to use throughout the year! The format is the same for each month: a short passage relating the history of the month's name, followed by some tips the folks behind Betty Crocker deemed applicable for the month. Two varieties of produce are featured each month, and recipes highlighting each month's picks are interspersed throughout the month. Cute illustrations brighten up the pages too. 

Lastly, there's blank daily sections for writing short entries. I used these to make note of new recipes I'd tried, what went into the crockpot that day, what I ordered at the restaurant we discovered while on vacation, and so on. 

This past fall, I found another copy of this book (again, the 1962 edition) at a used book sale, so once again I am enjoying it. I read anew that I ought to focus on oranges and broccoli this month, that I can make a orange pomander, and that "The beginning of the year is a good time to renew the closeness between parents and children...I have a dear friend who encourages the cold-weather custom of assembling her entire family for a pre-bedtime snack consisting of hot drinks (cocoa or mint tea) and coffee cake". 

Sounds delightful, doesn't it? Also delightful was this illustration which led off the beginning of January:

Just as I did in 2011, I will enjoy using this book all year long!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"Job Jar" For 2013

Hello! And a Happy New Year to one and all! We spent New Year's Eve quietly at home, munching on my homemade sushi as we waited for the ball to drop at Times Square. 

Earlier in the evening, I finished up a project I had started shortly before Christmas Day. At that time, I'd just completed the last gift wrapping and was inspired to do a little decluttering in my studio. I had pulled out a storage container of green art papers to use for making a gift tag, so I decided to go through this container to get rid of papers I didn't want anymore. 

While doing so I came across a fistful of dark olive green card stock pieces, each measuring 3 3/4" long and 1 1/4" wide. There were close to 100 of these, all neatly cut with rounded corners. Not sure where they'd come from, but I suspect the creative reuse store Learning From Scratch in Grand Rapids. At first, I considered putting them in the pile of papers to go to Goodwill,  but then came up with a use for them - hence, the title of this post, a "job jar" for 2013. 

Using a combination of alphabet stamps, number stamps and my own lettering, I wrote out a series of tasks on these pieces. Didn't really start out with a lot of organization, but the tasks seemed to settle into four categories: Creativity ("practice drawing", "try a new recipe", etc), Physical/Mental/Spiritual ("try a new workout", "read an uplifting book", etc), Help Others ("make something for a friend", "write someone", etc) and Household Helps ("do a repair", "work on filing 20 minutes", etc). 

For variety, some tasks are open-ended: for example, "do a repair" could mean mending a article of clothing, or it could mean getting out the wood glue to work on a loose chair leg. 

Some tasks are more specific: "make a Halloween craft", for instance. Yes, I may pull this randomly, say in July, but that will just make doing such a craft more interesting than if I were to pull this on a day in October! 

Out of the nearly 100 card stock pieces, I currently have 17 still blank, so I wrote out all the tasks on a separate piece of paper. That way, when I come up with 17 remaining tasks, I have a record of which ones I'd already thought of. 

Here's what my "job jar" looks like:

As you can see, it's not actually a jar; it's a pottery vase, made by a friend several years ago. It measures about 3" tall and has a opening about 3 1/2" wide. My card stock pieces fit perfectly inside. 

And here's the first "job" I pulled:

Thus, I got out the nature journal I'd purchased several years ago. To my chagrin, I noticed that the last time I'd written in it was 5-5-06! (to my credit, though, I hasten to add that I'd once kept a nature journal for an entire year). 

This is one reason why I decided to do a "job jar" - not only will I write in my nature journal on the day I pull its tag as a task, but I might then be spurred on to write in it more often - or, at least more often than almost 6 1/2 years! 

But the opposite holds true as well - if I pull a specific task like cleaning the refrigerator, and happen to pull that same task a couple of days later, then obviously I don't need to do that chore all over again. So I would just draw another tag. 

And of course, some tasks will likely be tackled before I randomly draw its tag, like the one for catching up on that pesky filing, but I figure this system will overall nudge me into doing chores I tend to procrastinate about. 

I think this will be fun to do, and if I follow through on the various tasks, I'll accomplish a lot this year as well!